Food security: an urgent priority of EU development policy

European Commission Speech by Andris Piebalgs Commissioner for Development at the European Parliament Public Hearing on Food Security

Brussels, 4 October 2011

Ms Zimmer, Mr Berman, Mr Sall, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by thanking the European Parliament’s Committee on Development for organising this public hearing on food security in developing countries. Your committee has consistently shown a close interest in food security issues and the global food challenge. So has the Commission: agriculture and food security are priority areas of our development cooperation.

Food security – pressing challenges

Ensuring that every citizen is properly fed and has access to food should be at the forefront of our minds and consciousnesses. Not only when we hear that commodity prices are increasing; not only when we see images of food riots on our TV screens; not only when we realize that drought or war have made food unavailable to thousands of people…

What is to be taken for granted by us is a luxury in many developing countries. And this is not acceptable anymore in the 21st century. A century of immense opportunities and challenges, and at the same time a century when we (re)discover the very simple essence of life – access to food.

Food security and rural development have always been top priorities for the European Commission. We have never de-invested from those fundamental sectors and we have played a leading role in those areas for many years. The EU Food facility, the MDG initiative and the renewed EU Food Security Policy adopted last year are just a few concrete signs of this commitment.

Annual commitments to “agriculture, food security, territorial planning and rural development” reach about 800 M€ per annum. In more than 40 countries around the world, this is a focal sector of our cooperation.

Statistics show that supporting those areas offer the best return on investments that you could hope for in terms of poverty alleviation. This is why we will increase our support in the years to come.

Of course, we must be realistic

1/ First, because food insecurity is a complex problem that needs to be tackled through various measures, including measures that enhance agricultural productivity, that promote the creation of opportunities in the labour market, and through social protection and assistance mechanisms.

2/ Secondly, because progress on food security will not be without its challenges. Production increases will be needed year on year to feed a growing world population; greater efficiency will be needed to cope with the pressures on natural resources and reduce avoidable losses in post-harvest production. The adverse impacts of climate change and excessive price volatility both add to these challenges and to the urgent need for greater investment from donors and partner countries alike if we truly want to reduce hunger.

As well as greater investment, we need fully concerted and coordinated action between donors and partner countries if we are to make food security a reality. The example of the Horn of Africa which is suffering the most severe food crisis shows that it is not simply the result of the region’s worst drought in sixty years and the recent hike in food prices; but a complex set of causes is at play here. So, now more than ever, we must act together and provide a response both to the immediate crisis and for the longer term.

An EU policy to achieve food security for all

The EU is actively engaged in fighting hunger and malnutrition (MDG 1), with specific attention targeted at the most vulnerable. Last year, policy frameworks on food security and humanitarian food assistance were adopted and they should give greater coherence and impact to our efforts, with a clear priority on small farmers and on women. With the Council having endorsed them last year, and with a joint implementation plan on food security in the pipeline, this food security policy is truly an EU policy.

So I am delighted that the European Parliament’s report on food security, drafted by the co-moderator of this session, Gabriele Zimmer, welcomes the EU policy framework and shares many of its priorities. And I am pleased to see the Commission and Parliament embracing a common vision on food security, also underlining how complex the issue is. I will not have time to reply to all of her suggestions, but you will hear that I have read her report very carefully

Ensuring tangible results for the most vulnerable

During my recent visit to the Horn of Africa, I witnessed at first hand the devastating consequences of hunger and malnutrition in a small children’s hospital in Djibouti. Hunger and malnutrition kill, and, for those who survive it, it can have irreversible, life-long consequences. This is where we must achieve the link between relief, rehabilitation and development. I am working closely with my fellow commissioner ms Georgieva.

Also, two weeks ago, along with EU Member States ministers Eamon Gilmore and Andrew Mitchell, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton we repeated our commitment to support partner countries’ plans to fight hunger and scale up nutrition.

With a number of Member States, we also developed technical guidance to ensure that investments in the agricultural sector translated into concrete nutrition improvements for women and children.

A global response to global issues

Eradicating hunger and extreme poverty is a global concern and as such requires a global response. That is why governance in food security is so important. And this is why the EU is a major contributor to global food security governance – especially through the reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and for implementation of the Food Security agenda in the G8/G20 context.

Alongside – and hopefully as part of – this search for global solutions, the EU will pursue its food security policy and ensure that this is backed up with suitable investments.

Investing in agriculture and food security

The EU is serious about investing in sustainable agriculture and food security to speed up progress towards the MDGs and reduce poverty. This is why, as the world’s largest grant donor, we are leading by example. We are spearheading efforts to encourage donors worldwide to give appropriate space to food security and rural development in their development cooperation.

Overall, the European Commission is meeting its 2009 L’Aquila pledge to support agriculture and food security. In 2010 alone, we have already made more than 50% of this commitment available.

On top of this, the Commission has launched the 1 billion euro ‘MDG Initiative’ which has at its core agriculture and food security.

And our commitment does not end there. Our recent public debate on the future of EU development policy has clearly identified agriculture and food security as key areas in which the EU should promote inclusive and green growth. The Commission will soon make a proposal to increase the impact of EU development policy, which will include focusing its support on sectors which have a strong multiplier impact on developing countries’ economies, and which at the same time offer strong opportunities in the fields of climate change prevention and adaptation. This means placing strong emphasis on agriculture.

I am also pleased to see that the European Parliament makes the same link as the Commission does: that sustainable Energy and Agriculture are the foundations for a sustainable growth.

Let me raise here a couple of principles that I want to see at the core of our future policy on agriculture and food security:

Commitments are needed on both sides. We cannot impose a focus on food security from the top; it has to be a bottom-up process. So we need our partner countries to commit to this agenda as much as we do.

It is them who can do the most to achieve food security in their countries by prioritising agriculture and food security and by delivering on their commitments. For example, in Africa the Commission strongly supports governments in delivering on their commitments made in Maputo in 2003 to dedicate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. I will propose that we commit to match the commitments of a government in a given country where agriculture is a sector of concentration.

Investments are needed in the whole chain. There is no point to invest in agriculture and food security if we don’t invest in the whole value chain. Our aid can only be high-impact if we address each and every part of the chain, from access to land and water to seeds, from infrastructures to storage, from transport to distribution, etc. One single donor cannot invest in the whole chain, but here stands our responsibility to ensure a real division of labour and to focus on everyone’s added value and comparative advantage.

In that respect, it is more than time that we join forces with the other players active in the sector, namely the private sector. Public and private investments could be enhanced with EU funding along the agricultural growth corridor concept where conditions are met for leveraging private investments that benefit smallholders and foster broad-based growth of the local economy and food security.

But let me be very clear, in all cases, it is essential that our support at all levels strengthens secure and equitable access to land, in particular for vulnerable groups. In that respect,

I will propose that we condition our assistance to a full transparency in land deals by our partners and to the existence of a clear share of profits to the benefit of the local populations.

I will propose that we work along with investors to ensure that a substantial share of profits/investments benefits goes to the local economy. Of course, this can only work if we do it all together. This is why the EU will continue to support the rapid adoption of responsible agricultural investments rules.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My objective is to equip the EU with an up-to-date framework for our development work over the coming decade and heighten our aid’s effectiveness and impact. With a special focus on agriculture, my intention is to provide a sustainable response to help eradicate poverty. This will, in turn, enable us to make strides with food security and nutrition.

I will close here. I look forward to taking your questions and hearing your views in a moment.

Thank you.

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